When snacking became the fourth meal of the day

Earlier this week, I sat in on an interview between GoodGuide founder Dara O’Rourke and a reporter trying to find out how shoppers think about “better-for-you” vs. “good-for-you” snacks. We all agreed that companies are working hard to develop the new “it” snack, and part of “it” is healthy.

I broke down the trends I’ve seen into four categories: portion control (100-calorie packs), putting things in (probiotics in yogurt, omega-3 fatty acids in crackers), pulling things out (sodium from chips, high fructose corn syrup from fruit snacks), and replacing (adzuki bean and taro root for potatoes in chips). There’s some overlap, but it seems like most new snack items fall into one of these categories. Are snacks from one category healthier than snacks from another? Assuming you are going to have a snack, choosing one from the “replacing” or “portion control” categories are probably better for you: there’s less tinkering with ingredients, possibly a focus on whole foods, and/or set limits on how much you eat.

We spoke for a while about some of these trends in snacking, but I couldn’t resist pointing out the fallacy in debating between healthy vs. healthier snacks, when we should focus on whether to snack at all. Snacking is so ubiquitous these days that it can legitimately be considered a fourth meal. Professor Barry Popkin and his colleagues at the University of North Carolina have done multiple studies to see how snacking has changed over the past four decades. He found that both children and adults have increased the number of snacks they eat, and that snacking represents about 25% of our caloric intake. Most recently, the team’s research seems to point to snacking as a contributor to the nation’s obesity epidemic.

It’s no surprise then that for food companies, snack time is a money-maker. Food companies know it, are milking it, and now have us writing and reading about the newest and healthiest in snacking (guilty as charged).

Our discussion left me with some questions for food companies:

Why are some snack product reformulations advertised (now with less salt!), and others rolled out silently?

Does having a large R&D budget, or a well-entrenched brand, influence how you may change the snack?

Do some companies strategically round out their snack portfolio by acquiring smaller brands that represent one of those categories?

Are companies thinking about the impact of their snack products on an individual’s overall caloric intake? Or does the “sell more” mantra run counter to this public health issue?

Got any questions to add to the list?

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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2 Responses to When snacking became the fourth meal of the day

  1. Janet Cooke says:

    I am disappointed to see snacking relegated to the consumption of junk food.
    Snacking can also include a fruit and dairy product or any other healthy combination.
    Not to mention the encouragement to consume several small meals a day especially for those of us who have metabolic issues.
    Who needs 100 calorie snack packs? fruit leather?

  2. Pingback: 12 Tips For A Healthy 2012 | GoodGuide Blog

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